Hate Speech Bill; UK, UN Condemn Death Penalty For Hate Speech Proposed By Nigerian Senate

The Hate Speech Bill which is currently being deliberated in the Nigerian Senate has raised so many controversies in Nigeria and around the world. The British Government has added its voice to the issue by saying it supports the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society. The British Government also stated that it is following the discussions around the proposed legislation closely.

This much was said about Her Majesty’s Government, which stated clearly that though the UK government takes a strong stand against hate speech , because it could incite violence and damage relationships within the society, but it also supports “the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society.”

The statement was signed by the Senior Press and Public Affairs Officer, British High Commission, Abuja, Chris Ogunmodede, “The UK government is following discussions around the proposed Prohibition of Hate Speech bill closely. We take a strong stand against hate speech, which can incite violence and damage community relationships within society.  We also strongly support the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society. The UK strongly opposes the inclusion of the death penalty in any piece of legislation, as a matter of principle.”

The United Nations has equally opposed the death penalty clause in the proposed National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, which was introduced by Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Sabi Abdullahi. The UN described the death penalty as barbaric, and that its inclusion in the bill was totally unacceptable.

The proposed Hate Speech Bill says that any person who violates the law shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.

However, the spokesman of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO),Mr Olusola Macaulay, revealed to CKN that UNESCO does not support the bill, and that a UNESCO advocacy group, Media and Information Literacy Coalition, would soon meet with the National Assembly over the bill.

“We are trying to pay an advocacy visit to the government and do some lobbying. There is a coalition working already, it was formed with the support of UNESCO. They are working to meet with the National Assembly to express their mind and possibly advise the government to have a different narrative to the issue of hate speech and fake news.”

Macaulay claimed that what the government ought to do is to initiate public enlightenment and education about hate speech and not institute death penalty for violators.

“I’m not sure what the government needs now is a bill or an idea to shut down people or prevent people from being able to express themselves, or express their freedom of thought or information. What I think the government should do more is to enlighten the people.”

The UN agency acknowledged that most Nigerians were ignorant of media and information literacy issues and a harsh law was not the needed solution to this challenge. Macaulay also observed that many politicians had said things that could destabilise the country and were not held liable for their speeches. He wondered why it was the common Nigerian that the government would want to persecute for hate speech.

The UN stated that “Every human being has the right to life, and you cannot cut off people’s lives just because someone has expressed his opinion. Nobody is saying hate speech is good. Hate speech and fake news have been there from time immemorial and it is barbaric to say now that we want to hang people because they expressed their feelings or what they had in mind. So, censoring people or limiting people from participating in politics might not be the correct thing. As I said, the best thing to do is to educate the people.”

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